What to do with the horse that’s “pasture sound” only.

The luckiest horses live out their lives in equine retirement homes. This one, Smooth Moves Equine, looks idyllic but the cost ranges between $4,950-$6,000 per year. And they rarely have an opening!

Recently I tried to help someone find a home for a horse that at the tender age of six, has been declared pasture sound only. After spending thousands of dollars at a well known large animal veterinary hospital the diagnosis was severe kissing spines. While the horse looks fine at liberty, he can’t carry weight.

This is a tough time to give away a horse that can’t be ridden. Just look at Craig’s list — there are any number of horses being given away for free, many of them (supposedly) sound. The desire for a “companion horse” has also diminished as the economy has tanked. With hay and other feed costs high, most people don’t want to take on an extra lawn ornament, especially one that is only six and could well live into his 20s.

It’s heartbreaking to find out your horse is broken in a way that can’t be fixed. If you’re lucky enough to have your own barn, maybe you can afford to keep him out back because your incremental costs are low. For those of us who board, the decision is a lot tougher.

What are your options?

  • Find a retirement home or pasture board situation. Hopefully your horse would not require shoes or expensive medications. But even this can run you several hundred dollars per month, which may mean you can’t afford to have a horse that is rideable.
  • Contact the breeder or previous owners to find out if they are in a position to retire the horse. You might find that they have the acreage and the feeling of ownership to provide the horse with a lifetime home.
  • Give your horse away as a companion horse. Sometimes this works, but it’s an option that’s getting more difficult. People are generally unwilling to take on the costs of a horse that they can’t ride, especially one that they don’t feel an obligation to support. After all, if you don’t want to support a horse that you’ve ridden and loved, why would a stranger want to. Even if you can find a home today . . . there’s no guarantee that the horse’s good fortune will last. If you go this route remember that even with a “take back” clause, there’s a good chance that if your horse moves on from this home it won’t be to a better neighborhood. Make sure you get references before you give a horse away and check up on him on a regular basis.
  • Euthanize your horse. This may seem like a harsh option but the truth is, at least you know that the horse won’t suffer or be sent to the auctions after you no longer own him. I know too many people who have learned that the semi-sound horse that they gave away to the “perfect” home for moseying around the trails somehow disappeared to an unknown fate that was probably not one that you want to think about. While some vets are reluctant to euthanize an otherwise healthy horse I believe that we need to make it easier and less expensive for owners who care about their horse’s future, but may not be able to care for them, an option that assures that the horse will not end up on a truck to Canada or Mexico.
  • Donate your horse to a teaching veterinary hospital. But if you do that, make sure you understand (and agree with) how your horse could be used. The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, for example, has a stated policy that healthy animals involved in the teaching program are not to be subjected to invasive or terminal procedures. This program was a first for a US veterinary school — which means that not every school follows this mandate.

6 thoughts on “What to do with the horse that’s “pasture sound” only.

  1. I’ve never heard of kissing spines….what is it? This is a tough topic and one that I’ve been fortunate not to be too burdened with thus far. My family had a farm for many years and so we had the flexibility to keep our old/retired folks around until their time was up. Now I’m boarding and the thought does cross my mind that my options are far more limited – especially if the condition were to warrant some sort of special care that I couldn’t depend on someone else to provide.

  2. I have faced this situation. My wonderful 12 year old AQHA gelding had to be “nerved” this fall, after several years of lameness due to navicular. We tried all the other options before I came to this decision. He has recovered and is perfect, but I board him, and have decided that when he is no longer able to be ridden/or I am no longer able to care for him (I am 67) I will have him put down rather than face the alternatives too horrible to think about.

  3. We have a gelding we literally purchased from a crank user in our neighborhood because we felt sorry for him. He’s never been sound and we have put a lot of work into him. We’re thinking of putting him down. If he had been a cat he would have been put to sleep years ago. I don’t think horse owners should just pass a problem horse along. I think they need to be responsible.

    1. He is a lucky horse to have found you. Even if you put him down, it’s a kinder end for him than he would have experienced if he’d been left to the mercy of the auctions.

  4. We created Smooth Moves Retirement and Rehab Stables because of such a need. We have less expensive options as well and and are willing to work with the owner to provide optimal care for the price.

    Over the years many wonderful horses have blessed our barns. Some have been with us for years and years and some come to us that are not fixable or comfortable and it’s more about teaching it’s ok to let go.

  5. I was told at a vet at a state teaching hospital that the worst thing you can do is leave a horse to a vet school (in spite of the tax deduction). He said their uses are always terminal, but that the horse can go through a lot of pain, on a repeated or extended basis, before he dies.
    I have three pasture sound horses, so can’t get another to ride and enjoy. I suppose this is a fairly common situation, unfortunately.


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